March 14, 2009

Atheism in the USA

A recently released report from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) continues to be big news across the atheist blogosphere (see .pdf file of the report). Considering that the report suggests that the number of Americans who report no religious affiliation or preference is increasing, interest in the report is no surprise. It also appears that Christianity is experiencing a period of decline. Granted, when one starts from a position of near absolute dominance, even a significant decline may change little. If nothing else comes of this report, at least media coverage might help lead some Americans admit to themselves that there are atheists right here in the USA.

Among what I consider the most interesting findings are the following:
  • When asked to specify their religious affiliation, roughly 15% of of those surveyed reported no preference. Only 8.2% responded this way in 1990.
  • The number of those surveyed reporting affiliation with Christianity is 76%, down from 86.2% in 1990.
  • 34% of the sample identified themselves as "born again" or evangelical Christians.
  • Approximately 12% of those surveyed were atheists or agnostics, representing a sharp increase from 1990.
The implications of this report are numerous and have been discussed extensively on many other blogs. The most common interpretation appears to be that the unaffiliated category, which includes atheists and agnostics, is the fastest growing group today. Perhaps the most positive interpretation is that increasing numbers of Americans are identifying themselves as atheists or agnostics.

I caution against over-interpretation of the report's findings without recognizing the methodological limitations inherent in studies of this nature. I think that it would be a mistake to conclude that evangelical Christianity is going to disappear soon. This has been predicted many times before, only to see a resurgence of religious idiocy. I have little doubt that our nation will experience another. Still, the report does seem to contain at least some good news for those of us eager to see less religion in America.

H/T to Spanish Inquisition